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Hadiza Bala Usman’s silent reformation of the ports

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Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman

“We live in a world with a confused idea of right and wrong but we must not deceive ourselves to imagine that being virtuous living in a matter of fact, the hallmark of all people of significance… diligence, commitment and a painstaking attitude to seeing things through, are like fragrances and they will endear you to people and draw good things to you. Women must shun that sense of entitlement that makes them feel that being a woman is enough to be considered for anything… women should be hardworking in a comprehensive manner and develop a can-do spirit” – Hadiza Bala Usman

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Despite the news of wars, crises and numerous challenges facing humanity, it is very striking that new chapters of developments and progresses are being written by iconic women in the postmodern era across the globe.

Kamala Harris – the first female Vice-President of the United States of America, Dr. Ngozi Eweala – the first Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and now Hadiza Bala Usman – the first female Managing Director of Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), all blazing the trail in areas where women have neither been heard or seen before.

What is striking is that these women are not just accident of history; they are women of substance and high-pedigree, who earned their places in history through meritocracy, hard-work, uncommon intellectual strength, solid principles and records of unparalleled achievements in their professional trajectories. The advent of Hadiza Bala Usman as the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is that of a born reformer that came, saw and conquered.

When Hadiza Bala Usman was first appointed in July 2016 at the age of 41yrs as the first female Managing Director of NPA (undoubtedly one of the most important parastatals in Nigeria and the gateway to National Wealth in terms of revenue generation and strategic Importance), there were doubting Thomases who were cynical because of her age and gender.

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This was because the NPA has become a living symbol of perennial chaos, chronic corruption and inexorable declining infrastructure. But despite all these, Hadiza was not the type to be deterred by challenges irrespective of their scale and magnitude.

Like a surgeon with revolutionary consciousness, Hadiza Bala Usman clinically diagnosed the problems and challenges confronting the Nigerian ports, and with her background as an expert in Development Studies from the University of Leeds, she was able to provide therapeutic roadmap for the redemption of the sector. Complementing her educational prowess was her public work experiences at the BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprise), the UNDP (United Nations Developmental Program) and as Chief of Staff to the Kaduna State Government; all of which she brought to bear on the new task.

Examining the Port Reforms
Like a gallant soldier of the late great Revolutionary Socialists, Dr. Bala Usman, Hadiza follows the footstep of her late father by instituting Administration Anti-Corruption Crusade at the ports through seminars and sensitization programs that gave birth to the Anti-Corruption Committee at the NPA.

Ports Efficiency and Improvement: This is one of the success stories of Hadiza Bala Usman. Through the full implementation of the ISPS Code in concert with PICOMSS, the digitization of operations and documentation through the computerized ports billing system, and the networking of stakeholders locally and internationally through the Ports Service Support Portal (PSSP), human interaction and factors responsible for the culture of graft has greatly reduced, alongside reduction in the time of doing businesses, thereby making the ports more efficient.

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Apart from digitizing the ports with state of the arts technology, the provision of hardware infrastructure to aid operational efficiency has received an equal amount of consideration. For instance, since her debut at the NPA six pilot cutters, tug boats and 17-meter offshore patrol boats were procured to aid operations and to stem the tide of crime in and around maritime activities.

Port Dredging and Facilities: In her efforts at improving the competitive edge of the nation’s ports over those of her rivals in the region, Hadiza prioritized port dredging to encourage berthing by ship operators/owners at the nation’s port in addition to providing facilities.

Towards this, she has facilitated the commitment of about $44.861 (N16.150 billion) to the dredging of Warri Port which was completed in 2019 and the commitment of another $30 million for deployment of equipment at the Onne Port in Rivers State, all targeted at improving security, operational efficiency and attracting businesses. As a visionary whose interest is in winning the game for her country, her commitment and passion to see the Lekki Deep Seaport take off very soon has been unparalleled, and she has left no stone unturned by creating partnerships, reaching out to potential investors and fighting to secure necessary inputs from the government.

Labour Stability and Workers’ satisfaction: Since assumption of leadership, cases of workers’ strike, unrest and dissatisfaction have become things of the past. This has been due to her idea of strengthening the Ports Consultative Council to enhance collective and democratic management and decision-making amongst stakeholders especially the Unions and other Ports-allied organizations.

Simplification of Processes: This has come in the form of flexible Tariffs and other measures such as the 24-hours Operations and the MIGT Pilotage.

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Strengthening Operations through Legislative Support: As it is widely known that the fate of institutions and their reform lies less with the individuals who superintend them than with the laws which enable their capacity, stability and longevity, Hadiza was conscious of this fact by lobbying for legislative supports to encapsulate and protect current reforms while creating a roadmap for sustainability for the future in those laws. This explains her support for the Ports and Harbor Bill among others so as to facilitate the ease of doing business and the restoration of investors’ confidence in the maritime sector.

Promoting Transparency and Accountability: If there is any sign of a watershed between what used to be and what the current situation is at the nation’s ports and their management, it is the aura of transparency that has towered above all else since Hadiza came to the office. From all sides and to all stakeholders including governments, shippers, business owners, importers and exporters, the reign of ‘the rules of the game’ as against that of impunity has been the order of the day. Accountability has also not taken a backseat: from recovery of hidden and unpaid government revenue, to recovery of debt owed to services provided players by the NPA, and the sanitization of fiduciary matters through remittance into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) much transparency has been brought into the accounting systems of the ports with revenue leakages becoming a thing of the past.

There is no doubt that Hadiza Bala Usman deserves her re-appointment based on merit and striking achievement unparalled in the history of the Nigerian Port Authority. The reforms and revolutions she carried out in developing Nigeria’s maritime sector have been very impactful in terms of revenue generation and contribution to the growth and development of the Nigeria economy.

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A Legacy of Patriotism: It is no doubt apt to say that Hadiza Bala Usman knew what she wanted when she was appointed the Managing Director of the NPA. The consciousness, steadfastness and the diligence with which she has carried out the task so far show someone who appreciates the transient nature of authority and that the most important thing is to leave behind an enduring legacy. Here was her statement in one of her interaction with the public and stakeholders on her stewardship:

“I would like to leave behind a motivated workforce that can match their counterparts in most developed countries. I would like to achieve the desired level of operational efficiency from the largest growing on the world. I would like to leave behind a Competitive Port Industry that will serve as a hub in West and Central Africa. Most Importantly, I would love to have instituted a transparent and seamless system which will ensure that the country’s resources do not get ferreted away and that Nigerians hone the benefits of national endorsement.” – Hadiza Bala Usman

Indeed she has demonstrated her resolve to these statements through her stewardship. But more importantly, she has demonstrated that she is ‘a chip of the old block’ of truth, honesty and dedication for which her father, Dr. Bala Usman of late memory was known for.

Awonuga is the Managing Director of Herosplus International Ltd.

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Hadiza Bala Usman
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